12 December 2010

THOUGHT - What is the greatest gift to grasp?

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In 1884, Henry Drummond wrote an essay on love called 'The Greatest Thing in the World'. It is so good that I felt I should translate it from the original Victorian English into today's English so that it will accessible to more people.

Henry DrummondI have published the essay online, but I'm also making it available as a series of articles here. This is the first.

I'll begin by quoting a section of the modern version and then add some thoughts of my own.

Please consider writing a comment, I'm interested to know what you think.

Every one has asked themselves the great question of past ages and of today: What is the greatest good? You have life ahead of you but you can only live it once. What is the noblest thing to have, the greatest gift to grasp?

We're used to being told that the greatest thing in the religious world is Faith. That great word has been key for centuries in mainstream church and without a thought we've considered it to be the greatest thing in the world. Well, we're wrong! If we've been told that, we risk missing the truth. In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul takes us to Christianity at its source and we read, "The greatest of these is love." (verse 13)

It's not an oversight. Paul has only just mentioned faith. He writes, “If I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” (verse 2) Far from forgetting, he deliberately contrasts them, “These three remain: faith, hope and love,” and without a moment's hesitation he makes his choice, “But the greatest of these is Love.”

Nor is it prejudice. We tend to recommend our own strengths to others, but love wasn't Paul's strong point. We can see a beautiful tenderness growing and ripening throughout his character as Paul grows old; but the hand that wrote, “The greatest of these is love,” was originally blood stained.

Nor is this letter to the Corinthians unique in singling out love as the greatest good. Other New Testament authors agree. Peter writes, “Above all, love each other deeply.” (1 Peter 4:8). Above all. And John goes even further, “God is love.” (1 John 4:8).

Drummond wants to know what the greatest thing in the world is. He has really thought it through and wants to challenge others to ask the question for themselves. This essay began life as an impromptu address at a country retreat, sitting in front of the fire.

The famous evangelist, D L Moody, had been asked to speak but he was tired and suggested Henry Drummond might take his place. And Drummond's words were so beautiful and striking that Moody wanted to use the address in his Bible Schools.

Notice how Henry Drummond begins. He argues that if you want to live life well you'd better make some wise choices. And then he points out how many make the mistake of thinking faith is the greatest thing (and therefore the thing to seek). What other things do followers of Jesus mistakenly put first today? Might they include right doctrine, and tithing, and high moral standards? These are not wrong in themselves but they are not where our hearts should be focussed.

Drummond's message is just as relevant today. Seek first the Kingdom, seek to be close to Jesus who is love made real in a person. Paul writes that love is greater than faith or hope and Drummond sets out to show that Paul is not writing out of prejudice or carelessness and that other New testament authors agree with him. Right here at the start of his essay he has laid the foundations. Love is the greatest thing - or as Drummond puts it, the 'Summum bonum'.

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